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Serious questions were raised over the London 2012 anti-doping process at the weekend as it emerged that van drivers stored their sandwiches and soft drinks in the same refrigerator as athletes’ blood and urine samples.
One expert called the arrangements “bizarre” and said athletes would be angered to discover their samples were being treated so casually.
Astonishingly, however, the firm which transports the samples said no rules had been breached.
According to the pre-publicity, the 6 250 samples in sealed, bar-coded bottles packed in insulated boxes to keep them cool, were to be picked up from Olympic venues by couriers UPS for analysis at the GlaxoSmithKline laboratory in Harlow, Essex.
But The Mail on Sunday, alerted by a whistle-blower, uncovered a secure secret “holding area” at a police facility about 20km from Harlow.
The UPS drivers deliver their square blue boxes of samples to a walk-in refrigerated unit.
The refrigerator is locked, but the whistleblower said the key-holder on each shift, a UPS employee, would allow drivers to walk in and out, not only to store their cargo, but also to place their packed lunches inside the cooled room.
A photo shows the distinctive blue boxes of samples on one side of the unit, with bottles of Coca-Cola, milk, Sprite and water on the other side.
The whistle-blower said that at other times they had seen wrapped sandwiches in the unit.
“You have to pass through security to get to it. It is a temporary set-up, just for the duration of the Games,” said the whistle-blower. “It is manned 24 hours a day by three or four UPS staff who work in shifts.”
The whistle-blower said the samples tended to remain at the holding area for around two hours before being shipped on to Harlow – despite international drugs watchdog guidelines stating that they should be transported to the lab “as soon as practicable”.
“At every step of the way there is supposed to be a record of who has had contact with the boxes containing the samples,” said the source. “There are clearly defined stages all requiring signatures when the sample changes hands, from the dope tester, the courier, the storage depot supervisor to the person receiving at the laboratory.
“The access drivers and UPS staff have to the container makes a mockery of this. Drivers are going in and out at will.
“The UPS manager at the site was OK with this. Mainly it’s the drivers who store their food and drink in the container, but other UPS staff do so too.”
When told of the existence of the holding depot and the sandwiches in the fridge, Michele Verroken, former director of ethics and anti-doping at UK Sport, said: “This is totally bizarre.
“While I doubt this set-up would increase the risk of samples being contaminated as long as they’re sealed, I cannot see why they would introduce another stage into the chain of custody. I can imagine the reaction of athletes, who’ve been working for four years to come to the Olympics, which have been hailed as the most tested ever, seeing their samples stored next to a van driver’s sandwiches. I think they’d be very angry.”
She also pointed out that World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) guidelines state: “Samples should be transported to the Wada-accredited laboratory… as soon as practicable after the completion of the sample collection session.
“Samples shall be transported in a manner which minimises the potential for sample degradation due to factors such as time delays and extreme temperature variations.”
She added: “To me, it’s not so much about a real risk of contamination, more that it just looks rather shoddy. And I certainly wouldn’t want to eat sandwiches which had been stored in close proximity to bottles containing urine and blood.”
Games organisers Locog said: “There are no issues with the integrity of the anti-doping programme and no risk of contamination or damage to samples. The IOC and Wada are happy with the processes.”